So apparently I am eligible to be nominated for a flipping Hugo Award

(UPDATED UPDATE: The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon has been chosen for the Locus Recommended Reading List.)

(UPDATE: The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon has also been included in Night Shade Books’ Best Science Fiction of The Year Vol 3, edited by Neil Clarke — I couldn’t be happier…)

bsfoty3

In August of last year, I received my first acceptance for a short story, The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon, and it appeared in the October 2017 issue of Clarkesworld. I could not have been happier. Or so I thought.

My family read it and liked it, random people read it online and tweeted me how much they liked it. People even reviewed it. I thought I was chuffed with the electronic version of it (and the podcast) until my buddy Jeff sent me a print copy from Toronto as a gift. I could hold in my hand a printed science fiction magazine that contained something I had spent a long time wringing from my already word-addled brain. I could not have been happier. Or so I thought.

cobh library view

In November, the story was picked to be re-printed in the 35th edition of Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction, a book whose previous editions I checked out of Cobh library and read looking out over the harbour that formed the basis for the one in the story (that’s the view from the library window above – taken from Cork County Library’s twitter page). I could not have been happier. Or so I thought.

In January, after a nudge from Neil Clarke, the editor of Clarkesworld, I checked with the Writertopia website to see if my story could be added to their eligibility list for the John W. Campbell award. And apparently it could. I could not have been happier. Or so I thought.

What I hadn’t appreciated was this:

My story is eligible to be nominated for a Hugo Award. Now, I am familiar with the cliche of it being an honour to just be nominated, and assumed it was just that – something people trot out. But if this is how great it feels to even be eligible to be nominated for something, I have to imagine that it is true.

My story is eligible to be nominated for a Hugo Award. I couldn’t be happier…

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My story, The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon, is featured in the latest issue of Clarkesworld

clarkesworld October 2017[UPDATE: the podcast version of the story is now live. Listen to it here.]

Those wonderful people at Clarkesworld have published my short story – The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon.

Needless to say, I am over the moon. It is the first thing I have written that came close to satisfying my own internal critic and I worked hard on it. How hard? Well, having checked the revision history on the story, I started it on September 14, 2014 – so more than three years between writing the opening par and it being published. This scheme is not going to make me rich quick (or at all).

However, the excitement at being published is an incredible validation, a vote of confidence that I can now legitimately refer to myself as ‘a writer’. This small success is already driving me to write more and think more about writing. I have even ‘invested’ some of the fee (again, not huge, but certainly meaningful) in a ticket for the Dublin Worldcon in 2019. By then, the plan is to have stories everywhere and books on shelves. I figure if I aim high and undershoot, I can live with it.

The story itself, The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon, is broadly about environmental disaster, our innate drive to fix that disaster with technology and the fact that the damage done by such problems (and their solutions) is often predominantly felt by ‘little’ people in little towns.

The spark for it was [SPOILER] reading reports about a robot that hunts and kills the crown-of-thorns starfish, an invasive species that is damaging the Great Barrier Reef.

It is also about that weird part of people that urges them to make pointless gestures in the face of all logic that may do them immeasurable harm and that weird place in me that tends to see such gestures as noble rather than stupid.

The submission process at Clarkesworld is both blisteringly fast and agonisingly slow (from my perspective – it’s still very quick in general terms), in that the story was moved out of the slush readers’ instant rejection list almost immediately, but then spent more than six weeks ‘under review’ by editor Neil Clarke (again, that is pretty fast by SFF market standards, but there is a time dilation effect when the story is yours). However, on the plus side, that delay did mean that I was lucky enough to be home with my family in Ireland when the acceptance and contracts came through. The news was comprehensively celebrated!

The review process was fast and thorough and I was encouraged that little was changed from my original draft. My sub-editing colleagues and friends should know that the American spellings are Clarkesworld’s and not mine. 🙂

I am told there is a Clarkesworld podcast version of the story on the way – narrated by the accomplished Kate Baker. I hope my phone-recorded pronunciation guide will help and will update this post with a link once the audio version of The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon is published. [UPDATE: the podcast is now live. Listen to it on Clarkesworld here or on YouTube here.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story, and comment on it on Clarkesworld’s site (and subscribe to Clarkesworld or Patreon them- they’re ace!) and share it on Twitter, Facebook or wherever you like.

Slán

 

From A-lists to World War Z

Mark Evans

Brilliant interview with Max Brooks by Empire magazine here. I haven’t seen World War Z yet because I haven’t read the book yet. Must rectify that before a member of the undead snacks on my cerebellum. Great insights into the writing process, shenanigans with Hollywood, politics with China and steadfastly refusing to do his work any disservice. A tip of the hat to Mr Brooks.
Choice quote…

I went looking for a zombie survival guide. Nobody had written it, they were all off ‘having a life’, and I didn’t have that problem so I thought, ‘You know what? I have two extraordinary gifts: I have an excessive compulsive disorder and unemployment. And I’m going fuse them into a book.’ So I sat down and wrote zombie survival guide.
Max Brooks

PS, Yes, his dad is Mel ‘Blazing Saddles’ Brooks. Which raises the question – was Mongo a bean-eating zombie?

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How they took that 360-gigapixel panoramic shot of London

There’s a nice video piece on the BBC website on how they took that record-breaking panoramic shot from the top of the BT tower. I quite like the bit which says the top of the tower “only” moves 12 inches in 100mph winds.

The company behind the shot, 360Cities.net, has panoramas from around the world on its website including this moody shot of the river running through Cork city.

 

UV been framed: science photographs that are literally out of this world

Awful puns aside, there are two photos this week that absolutely blew me away. The first is from the amazing Curiosity rover, beaming back high-res images from the surface of Mars. This week it took one at night:

Mars under a blacklight – like a 90s nightclub

It may not seem like much, but this is a picture taken in the absence of sunlight on a planet that is at least 34.6 million miles away. The idea is to see if anything fluoresces under ultraviolet light. That the camera is mounted on a nuclear-powered, laser-wielding robot car only adds to my awe at what Nasa and its engineers and contractors come up with.

The second photo is from a camera that spent a mere five minutes outside Earth’s atmosphere, strapped to a rocket.  Five minutes is not enough to take a usable picture of my incessantly blinking extended family, but it was apparently enough for scientists to snap a 165-frame flipbook of ultraviolet radiation that was  detailed enough to solve one of science’s weirder solar conundrums. Watch the video — that is the thing responsible for all life on this planet:

Tougher copyright laws could finish Irish newspapers off

Once upon a time, people paid to have their businesses listed in the Golden Pages. Once upon a time, it was against the law to give somebody information about where to get a perfectly legal abortion in a foreign country. One day, I will have to tell my incredulous children these stories about things made irrelevant by the internet. Yesterday, I was given a third.

Once upon a time, newspapers used to sue people for sending them an audience.

Apparently, “there is a fight under way that will have an enormous bearing on the future of the news industry in Ireland”.

Gather ye round kids, and I will tell you of Y2K, SARS, Blur-vs-Oasis, Pippa Middleton’s bum and many other tales that were blown out of all proportion by Irish newspapers.

At the centre of the supposed row (really just a conference organised by the National Newspapers of Ireland) is a review into Irish copyright law and the doctrine of “fair use”. Leaders in at least two of the Irish newspapers, the Independent and the Examiner, maintain that search engines “steal” their content without paying a penny in return.

The Irish Independent yesterday wrote:

“Website giants are taking journalism at no cost and offering it for free — even though it is costing jobs and livelihoods in the trusted media sector.”

The Irish Examiner wrote:

“The scale of the piracy is astounding. In 2010, while every media company in the country shed jobs and cut costs to the bone, a single search engine operating in Ireland offered around 150,000 newspaper articles that cost publishers an estimated €46.5m to generate. Last year that site offered more than 350,000 articles at a cost equivalent to more than €110m. And all without paying one cent to those who created those articles.”

We know (because it was in The Irish Times) that the “website giant” and “single search engine” mentioned is Google, no stranger to such accusations — Rupert Murdoch once referred to them as a “piracy leader”. But at least he had the courage of his convictions and stopped the search engine from indexing The Times when it went behind a paywall (it has resumed listing since then. I wonder why?).

It is that point more than any other that shows up the ludicrous hypocrisy of newspapers complaining about search engines “stealing” their content.

Newspapers have thrown up the shop shutters, spread out their wares and asked Google to please tell people about them. Or, as the Examiner puts it, a “process … hardly different to what we more commonly describe as theft”.

So why don’t they just ask Google to stop? Every newspaper website contains a file called robots.txt which tells Google what it may or may not index. If the executives at the Indo and Examiner want Google to stop listing everything on their websites, they just have to push a button. Or at least ring the editor, tell him to ring the head of IT, and he will ask Jim, “on the website”, to push the button.

But, of course, they will not. If they shut Google out, their online advertising revenues, already small, will fall. This is not a moral argument, with newspapers telling search engines to do the right thing and pay their way. This is newspapers demanding a renegotiation, saying “please sir may I have some more”.

Irish newspapers are in trouble. Circulations are falling, ad revenues are falling, and digital revenues come nowhere near to making up the difference. And the managements of Irish newspapers do not know what to do.

If you question that, take another look at those numbers:

“Irish industry group the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), of which The Irish Times is a member, said Google had offered 150,000 newspaper articles in 2010 that had cost publishers around €46.5 million to produce. Last year, this increased to more than 350,000 articles that cost the industry €110 million to originate.”

At a time when publishing has never been more widespread, easier or cheaper, these guys think lax copyright is the problem, not that each article costs them an average €314 to produce?

Let us completely ignore the fact that newspapers regularly “copy and paste” material from other sources, both public domain and not-so-public domain, and pass it off as their own, original, copyrightable work. Let us not hold our breath when we ask: do they always pay freelance newspaper contributors to reprint their copyrighted work online?

€314 per article? I don’t know what shift rates are like in Ireland these days but I’m guessing they’re less than that and I’m guessing most papers expect more than a story per day.

If this were any other industry, it is journalists who would be asking the sensible questions:

  • Doesn’t Irish copyright law already make selling somebody else’s original work as your own illegal? (Yes, for a given value of original.)
  • Would this be difficult and costly to enforce? (Yes, incredibly so.)
  • Will it stop people reading “free” news online? (Of course not.)
  • Will print publications be subject to the same rules? Digests in The Week and The Economist both carry more text than a Google link. Will they have to pay?

Newspapers are not dying because people online can read their stories without paying them. Newspapers are dying because the property and recruitment booms ended, because classified ads moved online, because they were poorly managed (aimless regional expansion, propping up vanity titles in London, €50 million for myhome.ie, anyone?) and just because technology passed them by for almost 20 years.

You are not going to solve a 21st-century technological problem by strengthening a law introduced to regulate 18th-century printing presses.

The Examiner says “Newspapers do not want or expect special treatment”, but that is not how it looks. Earlier this year, Alan Crosbie, the chairman of Thomas Crosbie Media, which owns the Examiner, essentially pleaded for a portion of the TV licence fee that funds RTÉ.

John Lloyd, a contributing editor to the FT, said the speech was driven by “the passion of desperation”. Given the parlous state of TCH finances reported in The Phoenix last month, it is unlikely that desperation has gone anywhere.

Paywalls are often suggested as a cure for newspapers’ revenue woes. I’ve written here before about why I think they’re not, but the main reason is that there will always be other sources of news. Such as the BBC and, in Ireland, RTÉ. They are not going anywhere as news-gathering organisations, despite the wishful thinking of the NNI, and as long as they’re around, Google will have news content to link to.

Google will not pay you for the privilege of linking to your content. The notion is akin to Borris-in-Ossory demanding payment from anyone who gives directions to a motorist, because it cannot extract enough money from them when they arrive. Google will just stop indexing your websites and traffic will dry up.

It is hard to think of a more misguided, and pointless “row” to be having in the face of the difficulties Irish papers are enduring than over whether copyright is strong enough. In 20 years’ time my kids will be asking what it was.

“Boss, circulation’s down, ad revenues are down, the kids are all reading for free online. What do we do?”

“Somebody get me a Golden Pages. We need a copyright lawyer.”

Newspapers may not admit print is dying, but the guys who make the paper will

The commercial director of London’s Evening Standard, Jon O’Donnell, was widely quoted this week when he said that newspapers, especially his own, had a healthy future:

 “The printed version has a healthy life ahead of it. The digital world is immense. But people still like the tangible asset of a newspaper. They like to tear them and dispose of them.”

Now, it would be a little odd if a commercial director for three newspapers – he also oversees the Independent and i – ran around saying “print is doomed”, but basing his optimism, at least in part, on people’s love of papier mache and recycling seemed a bit odd.

Those who run paper mills or provide them with equipment don’t seem quite so sanguine about the future.

Voith, a German company that makes paper mill machinery, announced this week that it will cut 710 jobs because demand for graphic paper (used for magazines or newspapers) has fallen. Voith says tablets are to blame:

“… the ongoing digitalization of everyday life through tablets like the iPad and the ensuing changes in consumer behavior is faster than expected having a negative impact on the demand for so-called graphic papers”

This message was backed up by RISI, an information service for the forest products industry, which said yesterday that world newsprint production would contract by 5.5 million tonnes over the next five years as newspaper demand shrank “due largely to media tablets and mobile devices”.

But possibly the most grimly amusing assessment of newspapers’ future came in a comment on Roy Greenslade’s blog:

“It [newsprint] definitely has more usage than you think. Here at Vernacare we buy all the available newsprint that is either recycled by the consumer or the newspaper that had not been sold by the retailer”

And what does this booming market for old newsprint produce? Disposable bedpans and urinal bottles.

Seems a step down from tomorrow’s fishwrap.